Twenty-eight good and hearty souls drove 5 plus hours to Maryland, most of us leaving in bright sunshine on Friday. Oh how deceiving that was. Packing up the night before was like launching a military campaign. Do I need my North Face jacket? - No we are going south. Do I need my thermal gloves? - Get real. Do I need toe warmers? Buxton it will be 50 degrees. And so it was on the Friday.
Arriving at Flat Iron Farm is by any standard a bit of an eye opener. You are greeted by lamas and a pair of zebras, a building that resembles a candy store with different colored chimneys and roofing, and a stable block that is dying to be used for a film set, made of brick covered with thousands upon thousands of multi colored subway tiles.
Once horses were installed, instructions for night check and breakfasts, and our contact information given to Joanne who runs the stables with her partner and owner Bubby, we went to our respective hotels and freshened up for the evening. A few of us stayed at Woodlawn B&B. It was a bit of a drive out of town but had stunning views over the Potomac and I would thoroughly recommend for a romantic weekend away.
I don’t think many people slept too well on Friday night, even those that manage to visit Kathy’s “hostess with the mostest” room, due to butterflies for the following days hunt. By 9.30am on Saturday the barn was in full operational mode, tack being brought in, horses being groomed and a general level of chaotic camaraderie seemed to ensue. Most people met the kid goat, Daisy May, who seemed to be enjoying herself nosing around everyone’s tack, she delved into my bag and ran off with sunglasses- several people helped me get them back, the leather neck strap alas was eaten. Despite the rain and cold temperatures spirits were high.
Amazingly everyone was locked and loaded by 9.55am for the meet and as the rain stopped 14 trailers left in convey. Being in the lead I wanted to wave an Amwell flag out of the window (if we had one) or blow my car horn all the way. Stephen stopped that idea in its tracks, but it was so exciting to see our AVH sign at the top of a drive and everyone turning down the lane to the meet. There surely aren’t too many hunts that come together like this, are there?
The meet was at Deerfield Farm, which is on the banks of the Potomac. The Masters of Del La Brooke, John and Sarah were very welcoming, Tom Mulqueen raced around making sure everyone was sorted. We enjoyed a stirrup cup, and Masters’ Stephen and Joanne offered words of thanks. Then a cannon was fired to signal the start of the hunt. Yes- the cannon goes to every meet and I was somewhat relieved it was positioned a fair distance away so as to not freak out our unacquainted Amwell horses. Our Whips Richard, Lauren and Charlie were invited to join the Whips from Del La Brooke, and the field of over 65 divided up into four flights. The fourth field being led by a most elegant lady riding sidesaddle.
The land in the area as one would expect is a decidedly flat, mostly large arable fields dotted with lakes which were once quarries. Master John took off at a fast clip, which after 15 mins progressed to a flat out gallop for a couple of miles. I was rather relieved to know that no one seemed to have any brakes on their horses. By this time we had passed across fields, hit a sandy gravel path around a very large lake and managed to coat the rider behind us with orange mud.
The Pen-Marydells worked tenaciously trying to pick up a weak scent and managed to put up a gray fox. Apparently the gray is not one to lead a chase and prefers to go to ground, which it did, so we continued on, and much to my delight found ourselves on a beach trotting along the sandy shoreline. Now we got each other soaked!
At the next check another fox was put up, and several had a view but it craftily went over a bridge that we couldn’t cross, so we moved on. The hounds worked hard and I noticed how different they were to our English pack, (known for drive, forwardness, confirmation and hardiness. The Penn-Marydels on the other hand are known for being slighter in build, and bring their nose and their voice), and they certainly had lots of voice. By this time it had started to snow and despite the plentiful exchanges of flasks, Master John decided we should try to meet the pack at the other side of the lake and warm up. So…. you guessed it; the first flight took off at another flat out gallop, with snow biting our faces and gravel flying up. Each time I thought we were slowing down we sped up again, one more gallop and I thought I’d have no skin left on my face!
Oh to have the open territory and footing Del La Brooke has. While I realized that horses, especially for the first flight need to be fit and have stamina, and many seemed to favor Irish Sports Horses, our Amwell horses need to have different skills, to be able to start and stop, to turn on a dime and jump and to traverse a wide variety of country from woodland to boggy areas to muddy fields to rocky streams. I guess as they say horses for courses.
After 2 ½ hours Master John decided to call it a day- beaten by the plummeting temperature.
The breakfast was truly something to write home about, hosted by Kathryn and John Junek, who have a beautiful home on the banks of the Potomac with views to die for (I could only imagine sitting on a warm summers evening on their porch watching the shoreline and boats sailing up and down.) Today the wind had started to pick up, the water and skies reflected grey and it was COLD. When I arrived I thought we would be eating outside on the porch, as the Oysterman was there with over 450 fresh oysters and hot food was also laid out. But no, we were invited inside with tables laden with more food, and despite cream carpets we trooped in, huddling around the fires in order to thaw out.
Master Stephen thanked our hosts and all of Del La Brooke for a great time and I presented some gift baskets to the two Masters, to our hosts, and to Tom and Christina Mulqueen who had helped coordinate everything from their end, as well as supplying 4 hirelings for the day. Warm and well fed (Charlie ate 24 oysters!) we went back to stable our horses.
As we drove the short distance back I was so relieved that all of our horses did well despite not having been out hunting much lately, and everyone returned safe and sound. The temperature seemed to drop further.
We had arranged to have a ride along the shore with the local Pony Club, but the wind had increased and it was decided a hack out from the stables instead just to allow our horses to stretch their legs before heading. I have to say it was so cold my gloves had frozen in my trailer and several of us were unable to put the back ramps down, as they had frozen solid in the night!
Despite the frigid temperatures which was made worse by wind gusts of almost 30 mph, 18 of us along with Tom from Del La Brooke set out past the lamas and through a field with cattle which included some African long horned cattle that made up part of the menagerie of Flat Iron Farm. It was very pleasant; Katy, Catie and Richard had a race around a large field, proving that thorobreds really are faster (Catie may have slightly cheated by lopping off the corners of the course) but Richard still won. We headed back.
So another year visiting Del La Brooke was over, I was relieved everyone seemed to have had a good time and all safe and sound, and with the hot air blasting in the truck, my toes started to thaw out and my eyes started to close. I thought about zebras, the shore, galloping along gravel paths, cannon fire and oysters, people laughing and having fun, Priscilla taking photos wrapped up for the artic, snow in my eyes, wonderful hand painted gifts by Christina, frozen gloves, an incredible breakfast, Kathy’s horse “Red” with AVH clipped on his butt, many hip flasks, the views along the shoreline, two pleasant evenings together, grey foxes and some wonderful new friendships made, and…. “Tales of the Riverbank” that will no doubt be shared for months to come.
Here’s to next years trip to Del La Brooke!